The Kentucky Dhol Drum

posted by on 2012.04.13, under Humor, India, Other, Shameless Plug

Du-dugga dug . . . .

Du-dugga dug . . . .

Du-dugga dug . . . .

Du-dugga dug . . . .

At this point of the Dhol drum beat, my shoulders usually assume their role in the bhangra song. 10 seconds is all it takes. My eyebrows probably rise in a look of confusion mixed with arrogance, to convince anyone watching that I know what I am doing. Being an inventive, self-conscious, and mediocre dancer is torturous.

It took 24 years for me to realize that I have been entirely too selfish about this music. Like many first generation Americans with immigrant parents from India, I spent a childhood embarrassed by my culture, ignoring it in attempts to fit in with my midwestern peers. I only realized how much I needed this culture the day I left home for college. I went from having nightmares about my school friends getting a glimpse of pictures of videos of my Diwali choreographed performances that my mother forced me to do, to shamelessly calling the same mother to walk me through making mutton biriyani over the phone so I could impress a lady friend. My wardrobe welcomed chinese collared kurta shirts soon after the law approved of my drinking habits. I even returned to a sidepart hairstyle, which I spent a dozen years deliberately running from in fear of looking like my ancestors. Now I “Don Draper” it just like my grandfather did.

But in trying to recover my roots, I might have gone too far. I made the foolish assumption that this self-narrative was heroic – that my early epiphany of realizing and accepting my identity around this culture had never happened before for anyone else. That I would show the world I knew how cool India was. So I moved there, wrote this blog, bought more ethnic shirts, instruments, grew a mustache, and never failed to be the first person at any wedding or celebration to initiate locking legs and circling while fingers pointed in the air to remind the world that our shoulders were designed to move up and down faster than any other creature on land.

And how did this wisdom that I was no hero suddenly find me? Sudhir Venkatesh’s study on why crackdealers live with their mothers in book Freakanomics? Aasif Mandvi’s jokes on the Daily Show? Goldstar’s rock performance at the hotel cafe? Anand Giridharadas’ book about moving back to India after growing up in Midwestern USA?Neil Patel’s highly trafficked blog about being an entrepreneur? Slumdog Millionaire? All these success stories should have gotten through to me, but despite it all I still refused to believe that I was not the voice of my generation.  I now know that my mistake was in believing that “this” was even “mine.” And I have a performance by a New York fusion percussion n brass band called Red Baraat in Louisville, Kentucky to thank for this enlightenment from a free ticket that I nearly disregarded because the concert buddy that invited me skipped town and left me to see the show in Kentucky by my lonesome. .

First impressions are given far too much credit in our advice dialogue in this society. And my first impression of the band was full of skepticism. An Indian guy playing a dhol drum with a bunch of eclectic looking bandmates with a gradient of skin tones from one member to the next. Dreadlocks! What type of hippie jam band bastardizing a drum beat that Jay-z introduced to our night clubs 10 years ago was this? This appeared to be as bad for me as it might be for the band that looked out into a crowd filling only quarter of the available seats in the auditorium. Sitting down to bhangra music! Would I be the first to teach the room this lesson?Or would I run as fast as I could to Bombay Grill, or just to the hallway and virtually recruit as many brown people in this mid-southern city from my iPhone?

I did nothing. There was no need. 1 song in, the singer requested the houselights to be turned on so he could see “his people.” Maybe 20 Indians total were in the room but they were not who he was referring to. Calmly he advised everyone to leave the seats and proceed to the stage, where an empty dance floor awaited them. This was the climax of the internal awkwardness I felt at the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts. I’ve seen countless times from the stage or the audience, this was bound to fail and the band would just follow the motions and try their best to get through the rest of the set and leave town and forget about that moment of uncertainty.

But the people tonight listened. Slowly the dance floor filled up. The singer gave them 4 instructions for how to dance, and they took his advice and followed each step: putting the hands in the air, turning the light, bouncing the shoulders, and swaying the hips. The music continued, but I sat. In shock maybe. Could Kentucky have something to teach me about my Indian culture?

My body felt cold instantly. Goosebumps on my neck. My face felt like it has turned from brown to red. But it was not from embarrassment. It was some sort of weird combination of pride, awe, and pleasure. I looked down and saw a community who had forgotten about the world. They shared a heart beat from the dhol drum, and breathed in unison the brass sounds. This could very well be our future. Young, old, black, white, brown, all shapes and sizes moved by the complex coordination of sounds. I was amazed.  I’ve seen a dance naturally take form to live music a thousand times. But it has never been music from my motherland that choreographed the motion of other ethnicities. And I certainly didn’t expect it to happen in Kentucky.

My eyes teared up as I zoomed past the 4 year old girl standing on her chair untwisting 100 invisible bulbs to a Black mother and 11 year son, both very heavy but using biggest body parts to elegantly infuse the dance floor with soul. The son mimicked the mother’s moves, trying to pick up on her occasional head turn action that tied the entire routine together. Once he got it, he side stepped his way to the 70 year old female employed as an usher by this venue and proved to her that she could do it too. His glasses nearly fell off, but his smile kept them from hitting the ground.

And then the white tuba player in the band, wearing green shoes and losing his hair to its recession grabbed a microphone and started freestyle rapping. A Black college student put on his sunglasses, walked up to the stage, gave some respect to the tuba player through his smart phone, and then switched the tone of the dance floor into hip hop party. The music continued, mixing in Latin flavors, jazz reminders, all while grounding the rhythm in Punjab. I even saw hipsters shaking their hips in ways they probably never did before. Friendly tension started to build though, as the community formed into subgroups. However these new divisions ignored our normal demographic divides of color, age, income, or sexuality.

A dance-off took place between a 15 year old athletic black break-dancer and a 75 year old bald Chinese man wearing glasses and Air Jordan’s.  Both parties won the contest in their own right, and I could hear their laughter despite the distance or noise. Head stands followed. (Not by the elderly). The group of teenage friends was an unlikely bunch. A flamboyant suburban kid wearing a skin tight golf shirt who didn’t need to maintain control of his arms in order to express himself encouraged the rest to show off their best moves. Moments before, he failed to get a cheer from the audience behind after his headstand building on the momentum from the two break-dancing moves that preceded it. He just didn’t care.

The dance circle continued and new moves were displayed, but for some reason the oldest looking, biggest kid of the group kept crossing the circle like it was a moshpit, refusing to share his own moves, but instead trying to dominate the ring. Surely now the harmony of the room would be broken. But I was wrong again. The clumsy kid, realizing he was out of line after a 9 year old kid pulled him aside to teach him about dance circles, finally found his signature and invented a move turning a bicep flex into a synchronized step for the entire group to adopt.

The break dancer who faced off against the older Chinese man picked out a lady, and brought a 1960’s feel to the show, spinning her around while still maintaining respect for the dhol. Behind them stood a heavy set woman wearing a shirt that reached her knees. However, her knees were in constant motion and at that exact moment in time she needed no one to dance with. To her left stood the Guru – A 30 year old Indian man with long hair, a beard, and wearing traditional attire. He began the experiment with dignity, offering the room authentic movement to the sounds, though they were subtle. He had now become the leader of what resembled a soul train, teaching others his eastern ways. Close behind was the affable college student who brought my father a plate of Indian food 1 year ago during the cricket World Cup. He borrowed moves from the Guru, but incorporated a timely pause and look towards his friends who were seated, begging them to join in on the fun. The hand wave that followed this break brought his actions back into the dance, and soon enough back into following the Guru’s lead.

A 6 year old Black boy taught a smiling middle-eastern student how to move both of their feet faster, but I still don’t understand how. Far away, a group of hippies with less exaggerated upper body movements, but much heavier and repetitive stepping movement, start gesturing a motion of slicking their hair back, embracing their unkempt appearances. And a tall preppy high school student wearing a sweater vest and glasses coordinated a train that snaked the invisible boundaries of the party to unite them back together for balance of the show. Feet leaped from the ground as everyone on stage and on the dance floor jumped at the same time as the show came to a close. I looked at those who were once seated and we are all now standing. Two plump older Italian looking women in the very back by themselves were clapping as hard as they could and hooting and hollering as the dhol beat became faster and faster. I entered a flashback to every enjoyable dance experience I’ve ever had despite not having danced once this night. This Brooklyn band managed to recreate the best parts of awesome weddings without requiring any sort of commitment through the Red Baraat disguise of a traditional Indian wedding bands makeup.

Would this all have happened if the venue marketed the event to the vibrant Indian community that lived minutes east of us? Could such a diverse integration of a community happen again on a dance floor in this city? Was this dhol drum somehow articulating a Morse code-like narrative to give hope for our future by the consequences of its noise tonight? Questions burned. They still burn.

But a great weight was taken off my shoulder. I no longer felt responsible for achieving fame in order to share this thing. It wasn’t even mine to share. It was within everyone in that room the entire time, and is probably within the reader of this nonsensical attempt at a memory. This really has nothing to do with culture, India, or the dhol drum. Nothing that humans have created over the past thousands of years through our decisions on how we organize ourselves can take credit for it.

It is simply encoded in our souls, this thing, that we are designed to experience moments in life that can’t be taken away and destroyed. An instance when a temporary language is created between us that will never be spoken of again. And though we all hear the beat, the melody, the words, the feeling that we share at the core of the music puzzles the greatest writers on our planet about how to best describe it using the incompatible characters that we are limited to in our many languages. Perhaps I came the closest I will ever come by simply saying:

Du-dugga dug . . . .

Du-dugga dug . . . .

Du-dugga dug . . . .

Du-dugga dug . . . .

March Madness (in the Pants)

posted by on 2010.03.19, under Humor, News

Who would have guessed that vasectomies were a seasonal business.  I used to work in retail where marketing campaigns tried to incorporate seasonal promotions, but I have to admit, it was surprising to hear that such a medical operation could be promoted in the same way.  Offices are seeing an increase of 50% in appointments for the first week of March Madness!

It makes sense… its a perfect schedule the operation to maximizes recovery time (3 days on the couch) while giving an excuse to watch crucial daytime basketball and have a decent excuse to get time off work

Ten reasons for getting a Vasectomy during March Madness according to the advertisement.
1. Extended office hours during games
2. Continuous ESPN coverage in the lobby
3. FREE snacks while waiting
4. Office is less crowded than a sports bar
5. Complimentary recovery kid
6. Doctors orders – 3 days on the couch
7. Excuse to stay in bathrobe all day
8. Keep Austin Weird – not overpopulated
9. You’ll be ready to love in the post season
10. It’s HIP to get SNIPPED (wow)

This is probably the best execution of a marketing campaign in March Madness I have seen, next to the Pizza Hut/NCAA/Bookit I remember from 4th grade.  I just hope March Madness is not the only reason some of these fans are going in to get snipped…

The Sex Appeal of Innovation

posted by on 2010.01.26, under Entrepreneurship, Humor, News

A study of our European ancestors may propose that ancient cave women couldn’t resist the sex appeal of the innovators of their time.

Looking at genetic patterns in Europeans, scientists see evidence that women from hunter/gatherer societies left their men and started procreating with the innovative farmers of their day.  Although it may be difficult to envision farmers as “innovators” amid our current society cluttered with self proclaimed social media guru’s, scientists who have technology to clone you, and engineers who can design gadgets that either can make our lives easier or miserable, ancient farmers spread a disruptive technology that changed the way people lived.  They also probably really pissed off the hunters and gathers, who’s genes faded throughout the centuries following the loss of their lady friends.

Who are the “farmers” and “hunters and gatherer’s” of today’s society?

Sugar Mama

posted by on 2010.01.21, under Entrepreneurship, Humor, News

Times are certainly changing. Recent reports by the Pew Research Center indicate that more women are becoming sugar mama’s in our society. In the 60’s it was normal for a woman to be fired once they got married. In 2007, it was reported that 22% of women in the US made more money than their husbands. When looking at education of married couples, 53% of the couple had the same level of education, In 28% of the couples, the wives had higher education compared with 19% of the couples with men having more education.


Upset at the post office? mail a coconut!

posted by on 2009.12.09, under Humor

I have never had a problem with the post office, but if I did, I would follow the example of these people in Florida, who had an interesting way of protesting their local post office being shut down.

Apparently, it is acceptable to mail coconuts without any packaging.  It costs a little over $4 to do so, and is a nuisance for mailmen to handle.   Thousands of coconuts were mailed to John Potter, the Postmaster General.


posted by on 2009.12.09, under Humor, Technology

I knew this was coming….I saw it coming last year when my land lady brought a homeless person into our house, and he spent 12 of the 24 hours of the day facebooking.  I admit, it was a bit embarrassing that he had more facebook friends than I did.  Shortly after finding an exit to Thailand, he released a series of hilarious facebook videos of him singing justin timberlake songs…no joke. 

Sites such as: Begslist, CyberBeg and all aim to give panhandlers a forum to beg for money.  Some of the sites, ironically charge up to $45 a month to be a member, but according to NPR, some of the appeals are very “heart wrenching.”

The problem I have with this is that there are enough of internet scams going on, and these forums just provide a new venue for these crooks.  Living in Venice, I deal with homeless people daily, and fortunately they all realized my modest wealth, and no longer as me for money.  But the truth is, I have a personal bias against giving homeless people money.  One particular homeless man in SF swindled my roommate into helping him out, only to steal my 2 week old laptop.  Either him, or the dozens of people that have bought or sold the laptop since, could be using it for begging on these sites.

However, for the hardworking families that have been hit the hardest by the economic crisis, perhaps some good can come out of this.  It is a bit more private, and less degrading than panhandling on the street.  Personally, I would prefer to donate money (if I had any) to a site more like Kiva, that gives microloans for people trying to start a business, however most of these sites help people in foreign countries. Helping American people keep their houses and buy their childrens books are very noble ideas too.

Just as long as its a scam.  At least they already have computers, and won’t try to steal mine again.


Bollywood Bargaining

posted by on 2009.04.15, under Entrepreneurship, Humor, India

Over in India, negotiations and bargaining have always been a part of local culture. Bollywood is no different. Indian movie producers and distributors are playing “hardball” with big theatre chains, refusing to release any new movies unless they get half of ticket sales revenue (during the first month of the release.) The industry has been suffering in recent months, and producers are having a tough time getting financing for new movies. This slum-dog-millionarebadass hasn’t seen a good Bollywood movie since I was in Hyderabad, and is very disappointed to hear about the cinematic slump in Bollywood. Hopefully both sides can reach an agreement.


“Hump thru the slump”

posted by on 2009.04.10, under Entrepreneurship, Humor, News

A leading dating site has found its match. This recession has helped realize a 26% growth in membership from last year. Existing users are also using the site more often. It makes sense, online dating is probably cheaper and more efficient than offline. People can screen and filter each other out, avoiding disaster dates and interpersonal encounters that cost money.

Some friends of mine started a dating site in Chicago that is blowing up, called They are Michigan entrepreneurs, MSU alumni, and have a fresh approach at online dating. Rather than focusing on the compatibility testing and long profile descriptions, its a site based on pictures. The tagline is “it all starts with a look.” Check it out. They are always throwing parties around in the windy city.

If you read part 1 of this blog, you would have certainly heard about my beloved Tata Indica that transported me around the dreadful streets of Hyderabad. Satyam drove it like a champ, and it played an instrumental role in my adventures. If you want a Tata for yourself, you no longer need to go to Hyderabad, or anywhere else in India for that matter. The Tata Nano might start selling in the US in 2011. It is the world’s cheapest car, selling for a mere $2500, allowing many Indians to own a car for the first time. Check back in 2 years to see if the imports come with a Satyam-like driver.


Recharge your cellphones by going for a walk

posted by on 2007.11.17, under Entrepreneurship, Humor, Technology

I have seen bikes used for charging cellphones while attending a music festival in the desert at Coachella, and I have seen knifes being sharpened in India with energy generated from the same pedaling action, but today I have heard about technology being developed that would recharge mobile phones simply by the motion of walking. For a man who is notorious for running out of batteries on my cell phone in the worst times, such as downtown Chicago an hour before having to meet my ride back home to Kalamazoo, this is the technology I have been dreaming about.

Satyam and the carrot juice

posted by on 2007.11.16, under Humor, India, Travel

I am a big fan of carrot and apple juice, and it has become a daily beverage choice for me out here, as I can get it made fresh at one of the many street juice vendors for under 50 cents. After being cheated a few times at local restaurants, Satyam volunteered to pick up my takeaway orders for me at places I am not sure about. While heading to the office one day, we stopped by a juicer and I told Satyam to get a carrot/apple juice. 10 minutes later he came back with a juice that resembled nothing close to the orange color or texture of the vegetable juice. Instead he brought one of the worst tasting, over sweetened drinks I have had in my life. I drank it out of guilt, but nearly puked afterwards. I asked him if he was sure if it was “carrot juice” 2 times and he smiled and said “sir, I am sure of it”

Well, needless to say, I held of on such juice orders for a few weeks, and the mystery drink that I had that day was not mentioned. This week the story came out. I came to the car from the gym with a carrot juice, and decided to show him what it looked like. He saw it, at once started laughing. He then admitted that he thought I said “Curd Juice.” (We still have issues with pronunciation)

The juicer was extremely confused why anyone would order curd juice. (Curd is a yogurt substance south Indians eat with rice daily to conclude every meal) Satyam has actually taken the trouble to buy the curd separately from a different store, and custom order my juice. He is really silly sometimes. For anyone who hasn’t tried Curd and Apple juice…you are best off avoiding it altogether.